This week's essential reading is a guidebook: Estonia by Neil Taylor, published by Bradt. I would not normally make a guidebook pick of the week on this blog, but Neil Taylor's book is different. For a start, Bradt is the only major publisher to treat the Baltic states separately and give them each their own book. The lazy conflation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania into a single region is a tiresome hangover from the days when they were called the "Soviet Baltic Republics".
The book covers almost every visitable corner of Estonia, from the grim ruins of the old Soviet airbase at Paide near Tapa to the Hanseatic delights of the Tallinn old town. The author's affection for his subject shines through—but is never sickly. If a drive is dull or a museum tasteless, he says so.
It would be nice if more guidebooks showed that kind of honesty. And it would be nice if those responsible for Estonia's tourist industry would read the book and perhaps take Mr Taylor's gentle but well-directed advice: for example in ensuring that the staff at the long-distance bus station ticket office all speak enough English to sell tickets.
Sprinkled through the book are extracts from literature, both known and long-forgotten, that mention Estonia. It also includes essays and monographs on subjects from food to religion. Few outsiders from any country know Estonia as well as Mr Taylor, but he has assembled a roll-call of fellow estophiles to help him, including Canon Michael Bourdeaux, probably the world's greatest living expert on religion in the ex-communist world.
Others include the banker James Oates and Tiia Raudma, one of the doughty band of Estonian emigres who returned (in her case from Australia) to make sure the country returned indelibly to the map of the world. Philip Gross, winner of the 2009 TS Eliot poetry prize, contributes a poem.